On Her Own

Claire murdered Don on Tuesday. It could have been an accident. Claire wasn’t quite sure herself. Don was buried on Friday. There was no memorial service for her husband.

Don’s Butcher Shop closed on Friday, out of respect for Don, but it was open again for business on Saturday. They had more customers than she expected. It seems not having Don around was good for business. Although Claire suspected some customers just wanted to see if Claire would be behind the counter in her regular spot at the cash register. She was. Saturdays were very busy.

Claire went home that night, more tired than usual. She brought home some bits of pork that no one had wanted and that would spoil by Monday. She wasn’t really hungry, but she couldn’t let the meat go to waste. Truth be told, Claire didn’t even like to eat meat. The smell of raw meat in the morning always made her gag. Don told her she was overreacting and would make her greet the morning delivery truck of carcasses. He said she would get over it, but she never did.

That evening, she looked around her house like it was the first time she was seeing it. The kitchen was exactly as she had left it that morning. Her coffee cup on the counter was still dirty. There was a defiantly dark brown coffee ring from her cup on the table, staring up at her, but not accusing her of laziness or of being slovenly. It was just an ordinary coffee stain.

Claire felt her spirits rise and her energy surge back. There was no Don to tell her to clean her cup, dry it, and put it away. She could drink coffee every morning for a week, in a different cup, and never have to wash a single one until she felt like it. Pure. Unadulterated. Freedom.

Claire glanced over at the cellar door. It was still closed. The EMS team had closed it when they left with Don’s body and Claire hadn’t felt like opening it again. The cellar was Don’s man cave. He reminded Claire of that every time he went down there. Every single time. Claire couldn’t think of one good reason to go down to the cellar, even now, when there was no chance Don would be hanging out in his cave, asking for yet another beer.
“I guess if he had to pick a place to break his neck and die, at least he died in his happy place. I told him that loose step would be the death of him. He should have listened to me. For once.”

Claire fried the pieces of pork and made a salad for dinner. Instead of cleaning up the dishes, she poured herself a glass of wine and sat down to watch TV. She channel surfed. She watched 10 minutes of a nature show, and 2 minutes of the news and then just flipped around the channels, grinning the whole time. She could watch whatever she wanted. She didn’t have to ask permission anymore. And she poured herself a second glass of wine because she was celebrating. She supposed she should have been in mourning. It was expected of her, but kowtowing to what was expected of her was now a thing of the past.

Maybe she’d get a pet. A very long-haired cat, the kind her husband, her late husband, she enjoyed that phrase, would certainly be allergic to. Claire fell asleep on the couch, all stretched out, from one end to the other. She dreamt she had 5 cats and 2 dogs and that she made Don clean up after them. She hadn’t slept that well in a long time.

Claire didn’t want to sleep in their old bedroom. Not until she had it painted, and bought new furniture. She thought that would be a good use of the money from Dan’s life insurance policy. It was a good thing Claire had kept up the payments on that policy and even better, the coroner declared Don’s death to be an accident. “Do you think it would be too much to get a four-poster canopy bed? Something white and pink?” she asked one of her imaginary cats. For now, Clarissa thought the couch would do just fine.

On Sunday, Claire cleaned up the kitchen. She threw out Don’s coffee mug collection. She wasn’t going to miss cleaning the “Ball & Chain” mug with her picture on it. She stripped the bed and threw out the sheets, then ordered new sheets online. Funny, she could still smell Don’s scent in the old sheets and he hadn’t slept in them for almost a week.
All of Don’s clothes got tossed into garbage bags so she could take them to Good Will on the way to the shop on Monday.

By the time she was done erasing Don from the house, it was dinnertime. Claire opened her computer and ordered Chinese food to be delivered. That was a first! Ordering dinner online. And Chinese to boot. Claire wondered what General Tso’s chicken could possibly be and decided she wanted nothing to do with any General. Chicken and broccoli would do just fine.

On Monday morning, Claire was in a hurry because she had to stop at Good Will on her way to the shop, and she left her mug on the counter with no guilt whatsoever. “Never mind,” she told herself she’d get to it when she got to it.

As Claire was unlocking the door of the shop, she wondered if it was too soon to change its name. Claire’s Butchery had a nice sound. But, maybe she’d branch out now with some prepared foods. Claire’s….Victuals? No. Claire’s Market? No. Perhaps “Madison Market”. She could name it after the town so people would think it was more inclusive.

She decided she’d ask Fanny & Dell what they thought about a name change when they came in for work. Now, that would be another first! Asking the employees what they thought instead of cursing at them. Claire unlocked the door and realized she was humming. Not a bad feeling for a Monday morning.

Fanny & Dell came in together, right at 10:00 am, and found Claire rearranging the window display. She asked them what they thought. Dell just shrugged and put on his apron. Fanny volunteered to clean up the back store room. Claire wasn’t sure if that was a vote of confidence in her window display abilities, but the back room was spotless by the afternoon, the customers had all been served and the front window was clean and fresh. All in all, it was a good day.

When Claire got home that evening, she noticed her cup was clean and in the drainer. “That’s odd. I guess I washed it.” As Claire was putting the clean cup away, she noticed the cellar door was ajar. Her heart jumped and started beating faster because she knew for sure she had left it closed. Maybe it had been ajar and the breeze from her opening the front door had cracked it open. Maybe it was time to get that dog or cat so she wouldn’t be talking to herself.

Claire went to Bide-A-Wee the next day, filled in all their paperwork, and would be taking home both a puppy and a kitten that evening. Getting two pets at once might be crazy, or it might be great. The pets growing up together and bonding. The puppy she chose was a light blond mutt that must be part Golden Retriever. Claire planned on calling her Goldie. Not original but who cares? The black kitty would be called Midnight.
When she went to pick the new pets up, the girl at the desk looked sad.
“What’s up? Can I pick up Goldie and Midnight?”, Claire asked.

“I’m sorry. I think you may not have been truthful on your application. You said you lived alone, right? We got a call from a man today, he said that because of his allergies, you couldn’t have any pets.” the girl replied.

Claire felt her hands start to shake. Just like they did when Don was unhappy with her. She staggered back a step and finally was able to steady her voice and ask the woman, “Did the man give you his name?”

The woman shook her head and said no, the man had hung up abruptly.

“No one lives with me. Come and see for yourself.” Claire nearly shouted at the woman who flinched and called for her colleague to join her. They had been instructed to always work in pairs if there was any problem with denying a pet to a prospective owner.

An older man came around from the back, and Claire could see Goldie in her cage as he explained that staff going to her house wouldn’t be possible. Could Claire possibly speak to the man who lives with her to straighten out the issue? “No one lives with me.”, Claire repeated. And then she said it again, more like a mantra, more like she was reassuring herself. “No one lives with me.”
Claire walked out of the Bide-A-Wee and to her car. She sat there for a long time before she started the car and headed home.

When she got home, she was relieved to see the cellar door had stayed shut. She was heating up the leftovers from her Chinese dinner, wondering if next time she’d try pork lo main or mein or whatever it was called when she realized she could hear the TV in Don’s man cave. It had been such familiar background noise, Claire had barely registered the ever-present sound of football coming from the cellar.

“What the hell!” Claire yelled to the empty house. “What is going on?” She yanked open the door, more furious than frightened. This was her house now. On the top step, she tripped and pitched forward. Claire fell down the steps and she fell hard. It was almost as if she had been pushed from behind.

When Fanny came to the house, looking for Claire, who hadn’t turned up for work or answered her phone, the first thing Fanny noticed wasn’t how spotlessly clean the kitchen was, but how loud the football game was on the TV downstairs. Unfortunately, Claire was at the bottom of the steps, her neck at a terrible angle.

Claire’s funeral was held on Friday.
For some reason, the realtor had a devil of a time trying to sell that house. Something about noises in the basement….

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